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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2008

Автор: Каратаева Л. Б.

Distance education is expanding worldwide. Numbers of students enrolled in distance education are increasing at very high rates. Distance education is said to be the future of education because it addresses educational needs of the new millennium. This paper represents the findings of an empirical study on a sample of Jordanian distance education students into a requirement model that addresses the need of such education at the national level. The responses of the sample show that distance education is offering a viable and satisfactory alternative to those who cannot enroll in regular residential education. The study also shows that the shortcomings of the regular and the current form of distance education in Jordan can be overcome by the use of modern information technology.

Distance education systems are being used in along with the traditional education systems in order to respond to the demand for higher education. Technological advancements, interactive learning possibilities are forcing the traditional universities to make more use of the distance education systems and technologies. Most of the traditional universities to create the opportunity for their students to be independent learners and learners who can organize their learning processes by using distance education systems and technologies. It is thought that students who can learn on their own and who can organize their learning processes will be more .likely to use lifelong learning opportunities. In Turkey where there is a great demand for higher education, the use of distance education systems and technologies in traditional universities is not common. These traditional universities can make use of the distance education systems and technologies in certain lectures and cope with the pressure of the increasing number of students. Successful implementation of the distance education applications in traditional universities will affect the mega education system in a positive way.

In this article, the views of the students at traditional universities on the use of distance education systems and technologies and independent learning are determined. Findings indicate that students do not have a positive attitude towards the use of distance education systems and technologies, and they do not agree with the idea that distance education systems can support independent learning.

With an increasingly young population, the demand for university education in the world vastly exceeds the supply. The number of people in the age group 18-23 in Arab countries alone is reaching 32.4 millions by the year 2000 (Gibbs, 1997). Considering that over 20% of this number will be seeking university education, it is expected that the number of prospective university students will exceed 6 millions by the year 2000. This leaves over 25 millions out of university education (Gibbs, 1997). Earlier studies on this respect expected the demand for university teachers to exceed 200,000 (Board, 1999). Besides that, nontraditional students (older, working) are seeking further education to improve their competitiveness in the labor market. This phenomenon is observed worldwide. According to (Darwaza & Abu Basha, 1993, p.154), over 50% of college students in the U.S. are adult learners (over 25 years of age).

With the increasing need for education in modern society, the number of educational institutions has also increased. Looking back to the process of industrialization and the creation of modern society we see that the first applications of distance education started with the institutionalization of education .Although the pressure increases on educational institutions due to the societal demands, still education is not accessible for a lot of people who demand education in institutions.

The first example of distance education practice which was called ‘correspondence education’ was done through the exchanging of learning materials between the student and the teacher by mail. As success stories of the correspondence education students were heard, the pioneer practices of distance education at universities were initiated in 1856 in Europe, in 1873 in the USA (McKenzie, Christensen and Rigby, 1968; Simonson and others., 2000).

Besides the many reasons such as the difficulty in responding to the increasing demand for higher education at traditional campus-based universities, the recognition of education as a human right, the increasing views on regarding education as a basis of democracy and better analysis of education costs, the advancements in technology also necessitated for many countries to make space for the distance education systems in their educational systems.

Although various terms such as home study, independent study, external studies, distance teaching and distance learning have been used for distance education the common ground is that the learner and the teacher are separate from each other during most of the learning process.

Distance education is a different way of offering education as opposed to traditional residential education. The term ‘traditional residential education’ in this research refers to the on-campus university education. Students have to attend classes at specific pace and times. They have to be, therefore, a specified duration and sit for exams at specific times.

The term distance education refers to two kinds of education. The first and historically older kind is the synchronous-Open University style of education. In this form of education, students get the bulk of their education through media other than physical attendance. They start their studies at a specific time and have their exams at a specific time as well. The time and pace are pre-determined. The students get their tuition through printed materials, audio, video, radio and television. They have to attend on-campus activities a few times every year. The second recent kind, named asynchronous (or Internet) distance education benefits from the recent advances in computer and communication technologies.

It provides the student with the benefits of learning at his/her own time and pace. The course materials are provided via electronic media that can be accessed by the student when and where it suits him/her This form of education does not impose any restrictions on the time of enrollment, duration of study, or the dates of exams. Normally, the student does not have to attend any on-campus activities. This form of education utilizes the Internet technology. Figure (1) presents the different systems of university education. For more details, discussion and classification of distance education, see (Alsunbul, 2002, p.69:74) & (Stein, 1998).

Looking back to the last two or three decades only very few distance education institutions around the world are associated with open universities were present. Nowadays many universities of continuing regular education around the world already started or are planning to start a program on distance education. According to U.S. Statistics, khawalda (1995, p.6) & Lewis etal (1998) quoted that distance education was offered by about 90 percent of all higher education institutions in the U.S. To facilitate interaction in distance education, and to get high quality learning, a solid foundation of skills and knowledge should be laid out. It is important to provide an adequate infrastructure, sufficient resources to support the development of course content, access to appropriate technology, and to incorporate training with the goals of traditional education and achievement of course goals (Gartio, 1996). With regard to Jordan, the kind of distance education now mostly offered is the synchronous open-university style. Students register at universities inside or outside Jordan. They get the course materials in printed form or on computer media. These universities hold intensive courses for their students at locations in Jordan. The timing of the intensive courses is arranged to suit working people. The exams are held in Jordan as well. These arrangements are intended to suit working Jordanians who are interested in furthering their education.

Advocates of distance education claim that this form of education is the most suitable form for today’s lifestyle. Some studies by Dale (1998), Ahmed (1997) & Deloughry (1992), suggested that the performance of distance education students is even better than that of traditional residential education students. Mohamed (2005, p.11) & (Sandler etal, 1983, p. 219) claimed that students preferred distance education to residential education. Some studies concluded that the scientific material provided in distance education is more organized than that provided in residential education (Ahmed, 1997), (Almeda, 1998) & (Alsunbul, 2002, p. 72).

Three main characteristics of today’s life are cited as imposing great challenges on traditional residential education and are urging for change. These include: The current era is marred with high rates of unemployment. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of adequate education. The traditional residential education system is not capable of coping with the accelerating pace of change. Hence, in many disciplines it is failing to provide the students with up-to-date knowledge (Ahmed, 1997) & (Larose et al, 1998). Business organizations are in great need to acquire new technologies and new scientific methodologies to improve their performance, but in many cases are unable to spare their employees time to further their knowledge. In these times of economic crisis and inflation, the increasingly high cost of residential education is hindering a lot of people from continuing their education. Distance education can provide a way out for those wanting to study, but are faced with the above problems. It offers them the following benefits (Alsunbul, 2002, p.73).

Portability (education delivered on-site), accessibility (available any time, in the workplace or the home), affordability, (cost effective for individuals and industry), incremental (augmenting current programs and services), effectiveness (increasing employee satisfaction and industry success), and flexibility (customized to individual learning requirements and progress).

On the other hand, it is suggested that successful distance education learners need to be independent learners who are motivated and have focused goals in mind. These learners need flexibility in program structure (many have other responsibilities, such as full-time jobs) and want practical information that they can use immediately.

The Open University in England which initiated the distance education system in 1970’s has been very successful in providing flexible and technological educational environments and thus it had an important role in the development of distance education systems. Open University practice which creates a second chance for the college leavers and a second degree for those who want to have another degree increases the quality of education in a society. It also helps equality of education by making education attainable for more people effects the professional business world by creating vocationally qualified individuals. Other advantages of the system are for those who can not attend schools because either they have to work care for their children or they live in geographically isolated areas. The motivating characteristics of this system are that, they provide the students the opportunity to learn when they want, and, at their own pace which is suitable for their capacity.

Until the beginning of 1980’s distance education was defined as a system in which students received education organized by an institution, separated from the teachers, communication between the institution and learner facilitated through printed material, media devices and computers (Moore, 1973; Holmberg, 1977). This system was criticized many times because of the one way communication, lack of instant feedback for the student and its socialization problems.

Despite all the criticisms, responding to the increasing demand for education through distance education systems were found to be more logical than increasing the number of traditional universities. Although the cost of the preparatory stages of distance education is comparatively high, the fact is that the same program can be applied for many students at many times with the same quality. Effective distance education costs can be also economical and this issue has utmost importance especially for countries which have limited sources. Otto Peter’s studies with analysis of the distance education institutions led him to propose that distance education could be analyzed by comparing it with the industrial production of goods (Keegan, 1996; Simonson and others, 2000).The first classification of distance institutions at higher level was done by Peters. According to his typology there are two main models which are western and eastern models. Comparing western and eastern distance education models, it seems that the western model is based on the development of individual learners and the eastern model is based on the socio- cultural development of the community (Keegan, 1996; Simonson and others., 2000).Perhaps the differences in the needs and understanding of the applications in eastern and western models also differentiated the problems found in the systems. In the western models the emphasis was given to facilitating and helping the individual learning on their own, whereas in eastern models the efforts

to make the distance learning accessible for the majority of the people was of the highest importance.

Specific conditions of the countries, the background and needs of the students and students’ thoughts and attitudes on the education system have crucial roles in making the differences in the practices in eastern and western models.

The distance learning market in the U.S., for example, is growing at a 25% annual rate (NCES, 1998, p.98). In addition, many authors including Penfield (1996) & Broad (1999) claimed that no significant difference in the achievement and attitudes is observed when comparing a control group learning by Computer Aided-Learning at distance and a similar group of regular students at the same university. NCES (1998) cited many factors that prevent the widespread of distance education, including: program development cost, limited infrastructure, equipment failure and cost of maintenance, legal concerns, lack of fit with institution's mission, and inability to obtain program authorization.

Technological developments and the use of internet mostly removed the criticism which continued until the 1980’s about the problems caused by one way communication. Providing a two way communication and the possibility of occasional meeting for socialization purposes have changed the distance education system into a new system in which technical media is used in a two way communication between the separated teachers and learners (Garrison and Shale,1987; Lewis,1989). In such a system students have to plan their learning.

Wedemeyer and Moore especially emphasized the importance of autonomy, independence and freedom in such a system (Moore, 1994; Keegan, 1996). Although the idea of a student who can learn independently sounds nice, the reality can be different. Keegan (1996) says that term “privatization is much closer to the reality”. Since the students are on their own during most of the time of the learning process in distance education, learning to learn by themselves will make them become more academically successful. From the point of view of the information processing theories, no matter what kind of education system is used, how the students organize their own learning is of critical importance.

In this theory the individual understands of his or her own learning processes, his or her self-motivation to reach an aim and awareness of her own cognitive processes is considered as self-regulated learning (Boekaerts, 1997). Metacognition is an important component of self-regulated learning. It can be defined as knowledge and regulation of human cognition (Shraw, 1998). People can control and regulate their learning performance through metacognitive knowledge. Although the idea that student should have the skills to regulate their own learning is generally supported, this idea becomes a necessity for students in the distance education system.

Distance education seems to be a good experience for an individual who is an independent learner and who learns by himself. An introduction to distance education presented through developed technologies during university education may be a first step for adult learners to seize the technological educational opportunities in their future life. Most of the adults acquire college-level learning outside the traditional institutions. Distance education is the most popular way for them (Kizito, 2006). Although various dimensions of technology are used for both traditional higher education systems and distance education in our country, the advantages provided by the use of technology can not be benefited from sufficiently. The use of computer and internet usage in higher education is increasing, although the rates change for different faculties. However, the use of computers and internet as means of meaningful teaching instruments has a low percentage (Erktin, and others, 2002). The use of internet and computers for effective teaching at universities is still avoided (Davenport and Eraslan, 1988).

Making use of distance education and its technologies for providing better teaching, and for strengthening the effectiveness of teaching programs are not frequently observed, and if they are observed, the applications are usually experimental. Even the universities with the poorest conditions can provide their students internet access, but here what is mentioned is to the use of technology to improve the quality of education and to guide the students in the planning and regulating of their learning. These qualities are the essential qualities of distance education technologies which will create benefits for students of the traditional campus-based universities.

The advantages of distance education lectures for the students of traditional universities can be the qualities of independent learning, self-planning, qualities which will help them all their future educational life. Distance education can bring ease to the education system of developing countries. As the number of distance education lectures increase in traditional universities, these universities will be able to offer distance education degrees and programs by time. Before some application of distance system in traditional universities, it seems that traditional university students have to be convinced for the advantages of the distance education system.

Since asynchronous education is expanding worldwide, and people and organizations all over the world are realizing its benefits. Official bodies responsible for higher education must start to prepare the rules and regulations for an ordered introduction of this kind of education.

The following vision and procedures are required for establishing an asynchronous distance higher educational system:

Integrated national IT strategy and infra structure for the whole country to include educational institutions, governmental sector and private sector. The official body must provide easy and reliable access to the Internet probably by integrating and expanding the current IT and communication system to include the whole country and manage it by a centralized system.

The cost of using this service must be a reasonably low one because a student in such a program will be an extensive user of the Internet services. High costs of using the service will be a defeating factor for the whole project.

Developing a unified legislation policy system to control admission/admission requirements, transfer to/from traditional institutions. For this kind of education to have any credibility, we have to insist on the quality of students joining this type of program. We should apply the same admission rules applied by residential universities. A new measure of computer literacy must be introduced in order to ensure that the student will be able to make full use of the available technology in the learning process. This kind of assessment tool has long been introduced in countries such as the USA, South Africa, and India.

Putting quality standards and frames to guarantee high quality distance education graduate no less than residential graduates.

There should be regulations at the national level recognizing and formally accepting the degrees attained through this kind of education.

Teaching requirements:

- Language of teaching should be a combination of country’s official languages to make it available for a much wider audience.

- Course materials should be available for download by students. This is an advantageous way since it makes it easier to update, and more accessible to the students.

- Majors all fields of study can be included in asynchronous distance education with the exception of fields requiring high practical training such as medicine.

Hardware/Software requirements

The proposed asynchronous university. A student must have full access to a computer must have the proper and adequate equipment to provide quality teaching and easy access for its students. For a much wider discussion of this subject and specifications refer to (Broad, 1999) some majors might require regional centers with electronic conferencing facilities.

Student assessment requirements

For the assessment procedure to be credible, it has to ensure that the student and only the student is being assessed. In residential education, this is not much of a problem as in distance education. Regulations should be set in the case of asynchronous distance education to compensate for the lack of physical contact. The lack of physical contact between student and instructor must also be compensated for by a higher rate of assignments, tests, and projects carried out by the students. The only benefit this kind of education offers to the student is allowing him/her to study at his/her own time and pace, but that should not be at the expense of quality and standards.

Coordination program between distance institutions, and other residential and none residential institutions nationally and internationally to exchange experience.

Other issues such as training human resources to prepare the courses and operators of the systems, number of credit hours for a degree or none credit course(s), class meetings, transfer to residential universities and so forth, should be taken in consideration.

Finally, as a preparation for these applications further research has to be done investigating views of different groups and investigating potential problems.

Nowadays, the Internet is used to deliver regular classes to students who would prefer to take their classes from home, as well as delivering education to distance education students who live far away from campus, probably in a different continent. The use of the Internet in distance education has led to the introduction of asynchronous education. It is worth mentioning that a number of leading synchronous distance education institutions are changing to this new form (Hanna, 1998). Although asynchronous distance education is spreading fast worldwide, we are yet to see its wide spread in the world. We believe that the introduction of this new kind of education will have a very strong and positive impact on the educational system as a whole, due to the following reasons:

- Asynchronous distance education provides the opportunity of updating course contents to cope with the rapid change in technology and knowledge.

- It provides the opportunity of introducing new courses in a much easier and faster way than traditional ways of education.

- It provides a better opportunity for improving and enriching course contents by getting responses from a vast population of students, since these courses are offered to a greater audience than traditional residential and synchronous distance education courses (Daniel, 1996). It can help overcome the problem of scarcity of qualified university teachers in the developing countries (Board, 1999). An asynchronous course can be offered to a much larger number of students than in a residential course, thus drastically reducing the needed number of lecturers (Ahmed, 1997), (Alsunbul, 2002) & (NCES, 1998).

- It improves time and place flexibility, because it allows a student to determine the pace of study.

Hence, it can be said that asynchronous distance education is better suited for today's needs and lifestyle. But for this method of learning to have a role, there are great barriers to overcome. These include:

- Computer literacy,

- English language proficiency,

- Cost of Internet,

- Degree accreditation,

- Defining an acceptable method of student assessment,

- Social-psychological-cultural studies must be undertaken to tailor the courses and the methods of teaching to the needs and traditions of the society.


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